Journey to Fate’s doorstep: Lady Silverhand’s important meeting

The Drow’s Bane arrive at Castle Waterdeep and are greeted by the door guards. Minutes later Seneschal Talonfeather greets the party and escorts them inside. “Thank you for your promptness”, says Talonfeather. “The masked Lords of Waterdeep, Lady Silverhand and the Lord’s Alliance are about to begin session.” The party is not familiar with the corridor they are being led down; most of the time they are taken through to Lady Silverhand’s personal chamber which is on the opposite side of the castle. This corridor leads to two double doors with gold trim and fine detail; a guard stands on each side of the doors. When the guards see Talonfeather approach they salute him and open the doors. The large chamber inside is noisy with people moving about, situating themselves in chairs and around tables. The room is displayed with a large chair near the center surrounded by several chairs on both sides behind a bannister. Two other seating areas of benches and tables, are on either side of the room. Together the entire seating area forms a semi-circle with Lady Silverhand seated in the middle.

This is the first time the Drow’s Bane encounters the full entourage of the masked Lords of Waterdeep. Every one of them is dressed in fine robes and wearing a gold mask to hide their identity. On the benches appear to be representatives from the Lord’s Alliance – Neverwinter, Baldur’s Gate and Silverymoon.

Lady Silverhand calls the chamber into session at the same time she acknowledges the Drow’s Bane and motions them to come forward to the middle of the room. “Thank you everyone for making arrangements to be present at this meeting in such short time. Our goal for today is to decide on the path forward to dealing with the recent outbreak of demonic cult activity across the Sword Coast and within each of our cities.” She scans the room and stares right at Nong for a brief moment before continuing. “The demonic cult activity is spreading as we see trails of sacrifices in our alleys, abandoned warehouses and in our sewers. None of my agents have been able to deduce why now, why here, however we have learned something interesting. The demonic cult outbreak in Waterdeep is in high demand of slaves to sacrifice. They are pursuing the crime lords in hopes to receive a constant supply of slaves for their evil intentions. They have been in contact with the Xanathar Thieve’s Guild who has stepped up to provide more slaves to meet the demand. Their slave trading partners, the Iron Ring, have begun to hunt down more innocents from the Underdark and surface in response.”

Lady Silverhand pauses to let the room take in the information and then continues. “My relationship with the Xanathar Thieve’s Guild has always been something of a hushed tolerance so long as they minimized the impact of their business on Waterdhavians. In return, we have used their sources for intelligence and information that have thwarted several criminal activities for years. Yes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Her facial expression turns grim as she says, “Rumor has it that a new Xanathar has taken over the Thieve’s Guild in recent months; this new leader is hellbent on undermining everything we have established prior; it is intent on meeting the slave demand of the demonic cults over keeping the political balance with Waterdeep. After several failed attempts to parley with the Thieve’s Guild, we cannot wait any longer and must choose a new path to take to protect our people and our interests.”

“Given the circumstances, the Lord’s of Waterdeep supported by the Lord’s Alliance and to a degree the Harpers too, have decided to terminate the Xanathar as the most viable option on the table. The removal of this leader will hopefully instill temporary chaos in the Thieve’s Guild buying us time to eradicate the demonic cults here at home.” Next, Lady Silverhand looks at the Drow’s Bane. “I have invited the Drow’s Bane to this meeting as I feel no other party has demonstrated themselves to me, who is capable enough to fulfill a mission like this. Royce, Nong, Naismith and Mordorck…will you take on this assignment to covertly enter Skullport, find the Xanathar and assassinate him?” All eyes look towards the party as Royce, Nong, Naismith and Mordrock look to each other. For a brief moment, Naimsith looks uneasy about this, but quickly changes character. Royce responds, “Yes, Lady Silverhand, we accept this assignment for the Lord’s of Waterdeep and the Lord’s Alliance”. A sigh of relief fills the room as Lady Silverhand displays the briefest of smiles before she closes the meeting and adjourns the audience.

She calls to the Drow’s Bane to approach her. “Thank you. I knew I could trust you to help. We have learned of two accomplices willing to help the Lord’s Alliance in Skullport with information on the whereabouts of the Xanathar. The first named Cephalux, a mind flayer, who has a manor in Skull Island. Meet him at his manor and learn from him what he knows. The second is a duergar prisoner named Gart; he is unfortunately in the Skullport prison also on Skull Island.” They discuss the plan to arrive into Skullport via the river. Naismith comments that travel by water is unnecessary as they will use the sewer route he is familiar with. “Oh, I didn’t realize that way to Skullport was still accessible. Very well as you see fit.” replies Lady Silverhand.

She then reaches out to each of the four and says “may the gods protect you and godspeed home with a successful mission”.

Journey to Fate’s doorstep: to Candlekeep and back

The Drow’s Bane teleport to Catchbreeze after saying farewell to the Githzerai. They report back to Lady Silverhand and inform her of everything that was discovered in Ice Reach and how they thwarted the unleashing of an enthralled Kraken and Tarrasque onto the Sword Coast by an elder brain.

The Drow’s Bane also come clean with Lady Silverhand and tell her about the wand of Orcus and how it came into their possession. They ask her for help and she recommends they seek wisdom at Candlekeep, the greatest collection of writings in all of Faerun.

Days after, they set out for Candlekeep by securing room and board on the ‘Fancy Lady’, a keelboat docked in the Dock Ward; it appears money is no object with the Drow’s Bane as they secure the entire ship just for themselves. The trip to Baldur’s Gate takes about ten days by sea which goes uneventful. Nong along with the wand of Orcus, stays in the cockpit the entire time because the distance is greater than 300 feet from the others and the ship’s supplies; anything within 300 feet of the Wand will spoil and prevent anyone from taking a short or long rest.

They arrive and dock in Baldur’s Gate and set out across the city. They soon overhear people talking about Demonic Cults on the rise in the area. They decide not to stick around but quickly find a horse stable, rent horses and make their way south to Candlekeep. The travel on horseback takes days but the trip is uneventful. Except for Nong staying 301 feet away from the party, waking up to find the tree he’s climbed up was alive the night before and now is dead; there’s also a party of rat swarms hanging out just below him attracted to the Wand’s aura.

They arrive at Candlekeep, a towering castle-like-fortress with many spires walled off by 20 feet high stone walls surrounding the entire compound. Candelkeep sits on a crag that overlooks the Sea of Swords; the entrance is via a bridge from the main road that crosses over to the crag and leads up to two large metal doors. As the party approaches they see several monks standing in front of the open metal doors, welcoming people into Candlekeep. They greet the monks, who inform the Drow’s Bane that to gain entrance requires an ‘entrance gift’ – a tome not already found in the library that is worthy of significant historical importance, rarity or immense value.

You can hear a pin drop as the party looks at each other unsure of what to do next; none of them inquired beforehand on the requirements to enter Candlekeep. Nong gets a little cocky with the monks and wields the Wand of Orcus in their faces proclaiming the importance of this trip for the Drow’s Bane and the danger he holds in his hand. The monks smile back and simply restate the entrance gift requirement or no admittance. Moments later, the monks shut the main doors to avoid further discussion with Nong and signal for help. Nong then runs up the wall and stands on top looking out over the courtyard. Several monks look up and demand he remove himself from the wall. High above in one of the spires, an old monk with golden eyes looks out, sees Nong, and makes his way down the stairs and out to the courtyard as fast as he can.

Naismith convinces Nong to get down and to head back over the bridge to come up with a plan. As they move back across the bridge together, Naimsith hears the door behind him open up slightly. He turns back over his shoulder to see an old monk slowly walking out, using a cane for support; the monk has golden eyes, wrinkled skin, grey hair and is hunched over. Naismith stops suddenly as an image of an ancient gold dragon appears in his mind. The monk with the golden eyes projected his true self to Naismith in a split second. Naismith turns around and walks up to the monk and greets him. The monk and Naismith talk for a moment about the situation at hand, and the monk convinces Naismith to write his story and present it to the gate for entrance. Naismith returns to the party and with the help of Mordrock, begins to write down the tale of the Drow’s Bane, as best as a bard can tell it.

The next morning, the story is ready and they present it at the main entrance. The monks look it over and discuss; minutes later the party is granted entrance into Candlekeep.

The main courtyard is cobblestoned and opens up to several buildings along the walls. At the far opposite side of the courtyard sits a tower with a green door that behind it are the research study halls. The party is escorted by a monk to the bath house where every ‘Seeker’ must first bathe and put on simple robes. They are next escorted to the inn where each member of the party is assigned simple living quarters. Their escort, brother Tim, will stay at their side until they depart Candlekeep, at most ten days from now. After they get settled into their rooms, brother Tim, escorts the party to the Hearth, the grand eating hall for a meal. Nong decides to leave the wand in his room to prevent any problems.

After the meal the party is escorted into a private study hall to begin research. Brother Tim listens to their requests with no judgement, leaves for awhile and returns with tomes and scrolls. The first subject is all about Orcus and his wand. The party reads through tomes of various legends of the demon prince and how he acquired the wand and how to destroy it. Some legends say one thing like to destroy the wand you must bathe it in Tiamat’s blood, while other legends say something completely different like you must take the wand to the Positive plane and bathe it there. What is clear is that there is no one solution across the legends. Further research that day uncovers details about the Abyss, Tiamat and her lair in Avernus, and her subjects.

At the end of day 1, the Drow’s Bane are escorted back to their rooms to go to sleep. The next day, a similar routine occurs where they are escorted to a meal followed by an escort into the study hall. During the middle of the second day, the party is paid a visit by an imp, who appears out of thin air. Naismith and Royce happen to glance up from their tomes when they see this imp signal to them to get rid of brother Tim. Nong calls out to brother Tim, requesting he needs to return to his room for something and Nong and the monk leave the study hall.

The imp says to Royce, Mordrock and Naismith, “Do not believe everything you read; not all legends speak the truth about how to destroy the wand”. The imp smirks and then continues, “I was sent here by my Lady, who has taken an interest in your journey. She wants to help, but you must prove yourselves worthy first.” The party begins to ask the imp questions but the imp only replies with, “In time all will be revealed if you prove yourselves.” and then blinks out of existence.

This encounter sets the party off into a new direction of research! Brother Tim returns with Nong and is sent off to find details on imps, the Hells and who rules each layer. Hours later reading through tome after tome, the party maps out the female lords of Hell: Zariel, Tiamat, Glasya and Fierna.

That night Royce and Mordrock make a plan to prepare spells for the next day, to contact their deities and planar allies, looking for any help as to who this Lady might be. Royce also receives a message from Lady Silverhand, requesting the Drow’s Bane to be at Castle Waterdeep in one week for a very important meeting.

The next day Mordrock and Royce get to work. Mordrock contacts Tiamat, given his previous encounter with the dragon goddess. A black Abishai appears in the circle representing the voice of Tiamat. The party quickly abandons this idea once they learn the cost for answers from the Abishai is one of their souls. Next, Royce succeeds in contacting Tempus. Royce learns from Tempus ‘the Lady’ is in fact Glasya, the lord of the 6th hell, Malbolge.

With that information, the party returns to the study hall to begin research on Glasya, her hate for the wand of Orcus and travel to the Hells. Unfortunately, brother Tim does not return with much information on these topics. Little does the party know, the monks have cut them off from further research of non-mundane things, given Nong’s little stunt outside the keep.

Back at the Hearth for the evening meal, Nong is requested by brother Tim to step outside. Apparently, the neighbors on both sides of Nong’s room have complained that something foul is emanating from Nong’s room and is turning water and liquids rancid. The monks perform a test by placing a jug of water outside of Nong’s room and confirmed within a few hours the jug of water was rancid too. Nong is immediately asked to gather his belongings and is escorted out of Candlekeep. Nong does manage to inform the party of this on his way out the door.

Royce, Naismith and Mordrock realize the situation and decide now is a good time to leave Candlekeep. They are frustrated too with today’s lack of research results and seriously question the value of this research facility being the greatest in Faerun. They gather their belongings and leave Candlekeep.

The four travel back to Baldur’s Gate to return the horses. Royce then recalls the Drow’s Bane back to Catchbreeze with a few days to spare from Lady Silverhand’s very important meeting.

Journey to Fate’s doorstep: Upon the Githzerai citadel

For a brief moment, the interior is crackling with chaos energy until Sithka, the Githzerai Anarch, waves her hand and transforms the energy into rooms and corridors. She welcomes the Drow’s Bane in and escorts them to a sanctuary room filled with peace and tranquility. She watches as her new guests carry a dead human with them into the room; the Half-Orc with black eyes holding a strange wand, also catches her attention.

Sithka and a few other Githzerai begin chatting with the party. She wants to understand what happened to her attack squad, the layout of the Mindflayer fortress and what is left of the Elder Brain. During the conversation, a few Githzerai bring food and drink in for the party – the food tastes sweet and savory and the drink goes down easily. In no time, the conversation ceases as Mordrock and Naismith fall fast asleep; even Nong, who no longer needs food or liquids to sustain himself, passes out too.

Nong falls into a deep slumber and begins to dream. His mind recalls the feelings he experienced when joining with the Wand of Orcus: power, fearlessness and a thirst for destruction. His mind next recalls the feeling of elation that coursed through his body when he delivered the death blow to the Elder Brain! However, the feeling of disappointment came next. Even though the wand was satiated with the kill, it still cursed at Nong, disappointed that Nong did not raise the brain as his undead servant.

The long rest continues for several more hours.

Nong enters into another dream state; this time he sees his mind’s familiar infinite plane of darkness except no eye stares back at him. Instead, he watches the horizon as a small light walks towards him. He waits until he sees the figure a hundred feet out; it’s a small humanoid holding a light in its hands. Fifty feet out Nong recognizes the small humanoid is a child holding a candle; it’s a Half-Orc child crying as it walks toward Nong.

In the room on the floor, Nong feels his heartbeat speed up. He takes a deep breadth, turns over and calms his breathing. After five minutes, he sinks back into the dream.

Nong looks out across the plane again and sees the child standing directly in front of him; the candle in its hands barely stays lit. The child looks up at Nong and says “Your light source is fading and I cannot keep it lit in the darkness for much longer. If you don’t find a way to destroy it first, it will destroy your light forever.” The child turns around and begins to walk away. Over the child’s shoulder, he cries out “You don’t have much time. It has awakened.” The familiar eye begins to open on the plane of darkness and looks at the child. The eye’s looming size dwarfs the crying child who slowly walks away. The eye grows bigger and stares at the child in anger.

Suddenly, Nong awakens in the dark room. He inhales and steadies his breadth as he here’s his comrades deep in sleep. He pauses, sniffs the air and frowns; then lies back down and closes his eyes. Ten feet away, a figure stands at the doorway quietly observing the sleeping party. She stares at Nong, moves her eyes down his body and stops at the strange wand in his hand. She studies it but from this distance she cannot see much. She catches a scent in the air and immediately looks towards the human corpse; their fallen comrade. The body has decomposed in record time and gives off a rotting scent; she also detects the smell of rotting food too. “That’s impossible, especially in here.” she thinks to herself. Her eyes dart back to Nong’s gaunt sleeping face.

After a few quiet breadths, she scowls, shakes her head and silently steps away.

Journey to Fate’s doorstep: From the ruins to B’al Crek

The walls and floors of the stairway leading down are out of this world. Mordrock does not recognize the craftsmanship nor the type of strange marbled purple and black rock the corridor is made from. All three rooms down here are constructed with the same materials. In the first room the party encounters a table with a dead Ice Reach resident on it, missing the top of his skull and brain. A few Mindflayers and Intellect Devourers surprise attack but are no match for the party. In the next room, the party finds a Githzerai prisoner locked in a cage named Onas, who is drooling and appears to have endured incredible psychic and physical torture. Onas does not speak common so the party uses Nong as the translator.

After several heal spells, Onas coms to his senses, thanks the party and gives them a warning and a request for help; Onas is the last survivor of a raiding party on the ‘Ruins of Angdan’. During his torture he picked up glimpses of the Mindflayers purpose here. They established this outpost over a century ago and have extended their reach to a Goliath settlement to the northwest and west as far as Silverymoon. He has witnessed dozens of humanoids, some with grey skin, taken into this room and through a secret door which Onas believes is a route to a Mindflayer outpost. Onas tells the party the Mindflayer’s Elder Brain has located a Tarrasque trapped in a demi-plane and a sleeping Kraken under the sea of the Sword Coast; the Brain plans to unleash thousands of Intellect Devourers on both creatures to eventually subdue each of them. Once enthralled, the Brain will unleash the Tarrasque onto Faerun and the Kraken onto the Sword Coast. Onas realizes all of the captured humanoids taken through here are being turned into Intellect Devourers to feed this grand plan.

The party agrees to help Onas attack the Mindflayer outpost behind the secret door. Naismith leads them through the secret door into a corridor, and down into a small room. Inside the room there is a strange structure; Onas gasps as he recognizes the structure to be a qualith portal – a gateway to a Mindflayer hive colony. He proclaims the party to enter through the portal, seek out and kill the Elder Brain; this buys time for Onas to planeshift to his home, gather the armada and attack the hive colony. He hands Naismith a ring of Mind Shielding which also serves as a homing beacon for the Githzerai armada.

Onas psionically shields the rest of the party, which will last for one hour. Both of these are protections from being discovered by the Elder Brain as soon as they exit the portal. Onas starts up the portal, watches the party step through then planeshifts away.

Disoriented and nauseous the party emerges from the portal onto a plateau over looking B’al Crek, a MindFlayer city somewhere deep in the Underdark. The huge cavern where the city is located is familiar to Royce, Nong and Naismith in terms of cavernous lighting by way of illuminating lichen and other bioluminescence. From this height they can make out the city’s buildings and identify the largest building in the center of the city; they set out to head there in hopes of finding the Elder Brain.

The party tries to covertly approach the city, trying to fit in as best as possible. Royce, Nong and Naismith recognize familiar Underdark kin – Drow, Duergar, Grimlock, Quaggoth and Bugbear. Patrols of Grimlocks and Mindflayers walk the city perimeter. So far, no one detects their presence. The first building they encounter along the road into the city is where Mordrock catches the attention of an attractive human female carrying two flagons of wine, who opens the door of an octagonal building; she smiles and beckons Mordrock to follow her in. Mordrock pursues her and enters the building; eventually everyone else makes their way in.

Inside is luxuriously furnished in silk beds and chais lounges. Soft lighting floats around above as a half-elf bard plays softly on a harp; skimpily clad consorts of various humanoid races lie about the room eating, drinking wine or gambling. Two concentric rings of pink marble raise the floor slightly in the center which is occupied by a large insect creature and a beautiful angel in shining armor; both creatures greet the party warmly as they enter.

The Ice Devil and Erinyes instinctively know why the Drow’s Bane are in B’al Crek and jokingly point in the direction of where the Elder Brain resides. But they also suggest a game of chance as the Ice Devil pulls out a Deck of Many Things. The wager are the souls of all of the consorts or a magic item against whatever the Drow’s Bane offers up. Mordrock seems interested however the party cannot seem to decide on an offer when eventually Naismith makes his way in. Immediately, the Ice Devil and Erinyes, proclaim the wager is what Naismith has in his bag (i.e. the Wand of Orcus) as both devils stand-up and start moving towards Naismith.

The devils’ action causes a fight to break out. Naismith tries to exit the door and finds a wall of ice blocking his way out. The Erinyes takes to flight and fires poison arrows at the party. Consorts begin screaming and running out of the building while others hide in fear. Naismith goes down inviting the Erinyes to swoop down and begin searching his bag. In this vulnerable position, she succumbs to party attacks and falls herself. Shortly after, the Ice Devil falls too. Fifteen minutes later, a Mindflayer patrol enters the building from the south side right after the party exits from the north side, having confiscated a magical cloak beforehand.

The party quickly moves toward a main road to fold in with as many people walking to and from the city center. Royce abruptly stops the party as he recognizes up ahead a patrol of Mindflayers, Grimlocks and Intellect Devourers standing on opposite sides of the main road; the Mindflayers appear to be reading minds as people cross their path. The party is not registered in B’al Crek and will alarm the Mindflayers if they cross paths. Quickly, they detour off the main road into an open market; they make their way through Drow and Duergar vendors towards the large building in the city center. Someone successfully pickpockets Nong along the way.

They avoid another patrol reading minds when they hear loud cheering from a building not far away. They approach what looks like an amphitheater and notice a very unfair match inside – a Goristro, whom the crowd is cheering for, against 6 halfing slaves. Minutes later, the party feels an intense vibration wash over their minds and bodies; a female voice telepathically speaks out across the cavern, “We are under attack, we are under attack! To arms! To arms my children!” and repeats the phrase several more times. People look around at each other, then look up and begin pointing at the sky. Six portals above the city open, each sparking lightning and chaotic energy as large adamantine citadels emerge from each of them. Hundreds of individuals begin jumping off the citadels and diving down towards the city, slowing their pace as they approach the ground; these are the Githzerai armada who have finally arrived, seeking total Mindflayer annihilation.

The party runs toward the large building as Githzerai rain down around them. There is a moat surrounding the large building that is home to two hydra that emerge and fight the party. The moat spans twenty feet across. On the other side, Naismith sees two invisible Mindflayers guarding an invisible doorway. The invisible Mindflayers dash into the invisible doorway when the Githzerai begin to land and attack. The party fights the hydras but does not spend the time needed to take them down. One-by-one, they jump, run, or swim across the moat and dash through the invisible doorway.

Inside is a large room supported by eight monumental columns resembling tentacles. In the middle of the room is a hole in the floor and ceiling; shambling around the room are several walking brain golems. The party realizes quickly these brain golems are superior meat shields that soak up a ton of damage. Nong kicks a few down the hole in the floor about the time the tentacle columns come to life and smack everyone around; Naismith falls from the damage but magically recovers. Eventually the party jumps down the hole in the floor to avoid further damage after Naismith sees and hears two adamantine citadels crash into the city from the sky. Maybe the tide is turning against the Githzerai armada.

The hole leads to another room that contains walls and walls of brains in jars. The party continues to fight the brain golems; they also realize that as a golem goes down it explodes causing damage all around its body. Naismith notices the two invisible Mindflayers are in this room watching the party fight; they look ready to attack the party. A lot of time is spent taking down the brain golems and then the Mindflayers, which equates to significant damage to the party.

The Drow’s Bane must spend time to recover slowing their progress. During recovery, they hear from the room above a battle breaking out. Four Githzerai, one being Onas, peer down into the room from above; they are glad to see the party alive. The four Githzerai join the party in pursuit of the Elder Brain.

It takes a moment to realize how to unlock the floor lock but eventually they figure it out; the floor vanishes to reveal another hole. Jumping down they land into a room that contains two large pens with several humanoid slaves staring contently back at the party. A ritual is underway between three Mindflayers and a captive Half-Orc; the Mindflayers surrounding the Half-Orc, are in deep concentration; the kneeling Half-Orc reacts to the Mindflayers – first he begins to tremble, then his body stiffens as its skull falls open to reveal its brain. The brain turned Intellect Devourer, begins to move and falls out onto the floor.

The party and Githzerai launch into attack and wipe out the Mindflayers and Intellect Devourer. Onas can tell the slaves are under the Elder Brain’s control leaving them practically enthralled waiting for their turn at the horrid transformation ritual. Naismith notices on the wall two invisible windows; when he peers in, he notices each window reveals a demi-plane containing thousands of Intellect Devourers. The windows also have latches to allow for opening and closing. Onas says these Intellect Devourers are part of the master plan but there’s no time to deal with them so long as the Elder Brain lives. Another floor lock is opened and the party descends down into darkness.

They land in the back of a large room lit by torch light along the walls. A human and a huge serpentine beast stand in the middle of the room waiting for the party. The Githzerai and party attack only to watch the monk take down a Githzerai with the snap of his fingers. The serpentine beast lets out a string of lightning that hits several in the party and Githzerai. The pair appear to be the Brain’s body guards and it is a tough fight. Eventually the party is successful taking them down only to find two Intellect Devourers spring out from the corpses. The toll after this battle are two dead Githzerai, one being Onas.

There is a wall of force surrounding the Elder Brain’s room next door and the party is unclear on how to break it; dispel magic does not work. Naismith sees the wall of force extends into the ethereal plane so the party cannot use that plane to transport into the room. Given the walls are aberrant in nature, spells to move through rock are impossible either. Mordrock calls to Kelemvor for help and an angelic figure with ghostly wings and a dark visage appears. “What do you seek child of Kelemvor?”. Mordrock explains to the angel about the wall of force. The angel replies, “You have what you need to remove the wall, just look around”. The angel disappears after speaking. Someone figures out the wand has the potential to disintegrate the wall.

Nong takes the wand from Naismith and feels the power course through his body one more time. The familiar eye opens up in Nong’s mind as the eye closes in the mind of Naismith. “Join with me and we will destroy it and make it our undead servant!!” the Wand of Orcus says. This time Nong accepts the invitation to attune with the wand. Immediately the power fills Nong’s body but this time more happens. Nong opens his eyes and they are pitch black; his skin is changing color and he looks thinner. The familiar dark aura emanates around him and the wand but now with extreme intensity. The two Githzerai take a step back in fear of what is happening to their comrade.

Nong walks up to the Wall of Force and touches it with the wand; the wand unleashes a disintegration spell and instantly destroys the wall. Inside the room is a huge tank with glowing pink water. The party rushes in and is hit with a psychic scream leaving some stunned. The party feels their minds being probed and a female voice telepathically taunts them. A tentacle emerges from the water, grabs Royce and stuns him while grappled; it then drags him underneath the water; more tentacles lash out and attempt to strike the party. One Githzerai is grabbed but withstands the stunning effect of the grapple, and is also dragged underneath the water. Nong uses the wand to call forth an army of undead that rise up and surround the whole room; he commands them to attack the creature submerged twenty feet under the water. The skeletons and zombies obey, dive into the water and attack; some manage to hurt the creature just before the Elder Brain lets out another psychic scream and turns the undead into dust and bones. Everyone in the room feels the damage of the psychic scream t00.

Mordrock is now down, Nong and Naismith now watch what the Elder Brain does to Royce. A grappled stunned Royce moves toward the Brain where it reaches out and sucks Royce’s brain out of his head; Royce dies as the Elder Brain consumes the brain making it feel stronger. Naismith dives into the water to attack and Nong goes unconscious while being grappled. Naismith gets grappled by a tentacle and falls unconscious underwater; Nong miraculously wakes up from the brink of death.

The wand chastises Nong as he comes to consciousness. Nong stands up, dives into the pool and uses the wand to strike the death blow to the Elder Brain. The female voice telepathically screams as a psychic eruption explodes from the Elder Brain killing everyone in the room as it dies. Royce is dead underwater, Mordrock is unconscious on the floor, Naismith is unconscious underwater and Nong is unconscious on the water’s surface floating on his back.

After an hour Nong regains consciousness; after two Naismith stops choking to death and awakens and after three hours Mordrock opens his eyes. Both Githzerai are dead and the Elder Brain is dead too. The party is victorious but at a tremendous cost. They hoist Royce’s dead body out of the briny water and attempt to rest. Several Githzerai discover them and the party informs the Githzerai of the death of Onas and the others. After the rest, the Githzerai escort the party back out to meet Sithka, their Githzerai commander.

Outside, B’al Crek is raised to the ground; there are fires burning, dead are littered everywhere and the stench of death is strong. Through the smoke, they come upon Sithka, the female Githzerai commander. She knows who the party is from Onas and salutes them. Naismith, using Comprehend Languages, can understand Sithka, but is hesitant to use Nong as the translator given Nong’s new appearance. Sithka looks over the party and their dead comrade and invites the Drow’s Bane back to her adamantine citadel to recover.

The party gladly accepts and begins to follow her, with Royce in tow.

Journey to Fate’s doorstep: Beyond Ice Reach to the mountain top

The rare sightings of a Purple Worm and Remorhazes within a few days time leads Xzin and the party northward, to seek council at the Goliath Embassy. The Goliaths are looked upon by Ice Reach residents as caretakers for some creature and some ceremony; these things are not discussed with outsiders but the party finds bits and pieces of information during their stay in Ice Reach.

After trekking two days north, the party arrives and Xzin presents the Drow’s Bane to the two Goliath Ambassadors. Xzin is humble and is looking for answers to the strange events occurring since the arrival of the Drow’s Bane to Ice Reach; like the other Ice Reach residents, Xzin holds the Goliaths in high esteem for their wisdom and advice. But the Goliaths responses are spiteful and chastising; they believe the Drow’s Bane are imposters and need to be punished.

A battle begins in spite of Xzin trying to mediate the situation. The Goliaths rage and viciously fight the party but are eventually overtaken and fall. Xzin, shocked in horror by the turn of events, comes clean with the truth. There is a Silver Dragon named Angdan who lives on the top of the mountain. Angdan routinely conducts a ‘Ceremony of the Silver Heart’ that Xzin believes is honorable. Worthy Ice Reach residents, visitors and all Ice Reach children partake in the ceremony by way of the Goliath Embassy; these selected individuals journey up the Silver Path, meet Angdan and under his guidance become protectors of the realm, never to be seen again.

The Wand of Orcus is destabilizing the bag of holding and Royce removes it seconds before the bag implodes. The Wand reacts to Royce’s handling of it, by instantly killing Royce and turning him into a zombie. The party deals with the situation and resurrects Royce; Xzin, in shock and horror, witnesses these unholy events and mocks the party for mocking him about the Goliaths, Angdan and the Ceremony of the Silver Heart.

The party settles down once Royce awakens and takes a long rest; unaware the Wand’s aura is causing the Goliath corpses to rot and spoiling all food in the area; ice cock roaches responding to the Wand’s aura, have assembled in the corners of the room by the time the party wakes up.

The trek up the Silver Path is nearly vertical, hiking 500 feet up the mountain to a path made of clouds, that ascends another 500 feet up to the mountain top. Besides extreme cold weather, the Drow’s Bane are attacked by two Rocs on the cloud path. A Roc grabs hold of Royce and drops him 500 feet below; Royce survives and calls forth Daern’s Instant Fortress for protection. Nong, Naismith and Mordrock perform acts of ‘Cirque du Soleil’ on the Rocs as a way to counter the Roc’s grab and drop tactic. During this encounter, Xzin is never attacked by the Rocs even though he attacks the creatures in self-defense.

The party continues up the cloud path after disposing the Rocs; one nearly crashes into Daern’s Instance Fortress 500 feet below. The mountain top consists of a large space centered around ancient ruins; 50 feet above the ruins a heart shaped cloud hovers revealing just a face of a Silver Dragon. For a few hours, Naismith, Nong, Mordrock and Xzin hang out at the mountain top edge, recovering from the Roc attack while Royce recovers in the Instant Fortress.

When the party crosses into the area with the ruins, the dragon speaks and welcomes the party to approach as five chairs made of clouds form in front of a table made of clouds. The chair backs resemble elongated dragon necks that extend into dragon heads over the top of the chairs. A human woman greets the party and apologizes for Angdan being unable to assist the party on the cloud path due to the extreme weather. Xzin immediately recognizes the woman to be his wife, Shevin, and runs to her; the couple embraces and just goes after each other as if they have not seen each other for days. Xzin pulls back from their kiss and tells Shevin about the Goliath Embassy.

Angdan laughs, flys out of the heart shaped cloud and lands his huge body next to the cloud table and chairs. He beckons the party to approach, sit and converse. Nong, Naismith and Mordrock approach and begin talking with Angdan. Eventually one of them sits down on a dragon chair. What happens next is a surprise for the group: something hiding in the head of the chair attempts to attack and fails, revealing itself to be an Intellect Devourer! Four other Intellect Devourers climb out of the other chairs and attack. Angdan takes off circling around the area, taunting the Drow’s Bane.

Shevin pushes Xzin onto the ground and taunts her husband as she unsheathes her long sword and moves to attack the party. Xzin is besides himself, confused with what he’s witnessing between his wife’s and Angdan’s behavior.

Naismith, Nong and Mordrock engage, taking down the Intellect Devourers in between Angdan’s breadth weapon, claws and tail swings. Nong takes down Shevin as Angdan takes down Mordock; when Shevin falls, an Intellect Devourer emerges from her head and attacks Nong. Naismith moves around the battlefield, ducking and covering and unleashing damage to the dragon. The battle is difficult without Royce’s support and eventually Nong is barely up, when a Mind Flayer exits out of the ruins and attacks. Xzin comes out of shock and attacks the Mind Flayer only to be stunned by the Mind Flayer’s mind blast.

Naismith, who is hiding but cornered, reaches into his bag and takes hold of the Wand as Angdan searches for the rogue, flying above. The Wand responds to Naismith’s command and an arc of necrotic energy releases from the Wand into the dragon! Angdan lets out a great roar as the necrotic energy tears into his flesh. The sound is so loud, even Royce hears it causing Royce to check in with the party. Minutes later, Royce shifts into the Ethereal plane and travels up the mountain.

Naismith delivers the killing blow to Angdan using the Wand one more time. The Wand reaches out to Naismith with excitement and a thirst for destruction; it tries to join with Naismith but fails. The familiar eye in Nong’s mind closes as an eye in Naismith’s mind opens. An Intellect Devourer emerges from Angdan’s head and attacks. Naismith quickly puts down the Intellect Devourer.

Royce recovers the party and as Mordrock’s eyes awaken he watches as Xzin, speaking to himself walks past; Xzin looks in shock, with unfocused eyes and babbling to himself, “…my life is a lie…I’m a joke…what was my wife…what did I do to my children!?!…”. Mordrock stands up and calls out to Xzin as he watches Xzin walk off the side of the mountain to his death.

After the party recovers they make their way down the stairs that leads deeper into the ruins.

Journey to Fate’s doorstep: Ice Reach

Below are key moments from the previous session worth noting.

Mordrock now carries the bag of holding that contains the wand of Orcus. When Mordrock opens the bag to peer inside for the first time, his mysterious necklace flashes intense burning heat. The flash of heat pricks his skin as he recognizes, what is inside the bag reeks of tremendous necrotic power. Nong is also interested in the bag of holding and draws closer to Mordrock.

Ice Reach is a human settlement founded 50 years ago by an expedition led from Silverymoon to Highmelt Lake region. In Highmelt Lake, the expedition stumbles upon the rare Greyboon fungus and discovers Bluefin Tinker fish spawning grounds. The Bluefin Tinker fish brain is an alchemical ingredient to make potions of water-breathing and also induces a temporary fugue state when ground up and snorted; the latter property is a component much sought after in the pleasure houses of the realm. Between Greyboon sustenance and Bluefin Tinker to trade, the expedition setup a fragile settlement called Ice Reach. The offspring of the expedition leaders, a man known as Xzin, is the current jarl of Ice Reach.

The inhabitants of Ice Reach have grey mottled skin; a result of consuming Greyboon fungus. Once a person consumes 3 servings of Greyboon fungus his/her system can no longer sustain itself on any other food source.

Xzin appreciates the party’s assistance with the Remorhaz attack on the quarry. Ice Reach has not experienced a Remorhaz attack since the extreme blizzard two years ago that caused much of the Remorhaz natural prey to parish. Plus, the party receives bonus points for Mordrock helping prepare the dead for the evening funeral. Unfortunately, these bonus points are quickly cancelled when Royce threatens to level Ice Reach with an earthquake in front of Xzin and several guards the next morning.

The party meets the enthusiastic Wrennick, foreman of the Greyboon harvesting operations. Wrennick is delighted to have guests interested in a tour of the Greyboon cave. The large cavernous Greyboon cave brings to mind memories of the Underdark to Royce, Naismith and Nong. Unfortunately, Wrennick stumbles down a wrong path and right into the open mouth of a purple worm. This causes the mouth to close and swallow at the same time the party stops dead in their tracks in shock of what just happened.

Journey to Fate’s doorstep: Skyreach Castle

The party prepares for a long night’s rest on top of the huge bed that serves as Blagothkus’s ‘guest bedroom’. Royce lays down, closes his eyes, and offers a prayer to Tempus. He allows his mind to reflect on the day – ‘flying on pegasi, a Cloud Giant and his humongous castle and a battle with huge monsters – haven’t seen that in awhile’. The remorhaz battle was dangerous and it reminded Royce how out of shape he feels. ‘The rush of adrenaline and fear, thinking on your feet and keeping focused on spells in the heat of battle – man I am out of shape but happy we did our job, praise Tempus!’.

His mind shifts to reflect on this new cleric of Kelemvor accompanying the Drow’s Bane, the hill dwarf Mordrock. ‘I like the guy so far, seems to have an interesting history. Boy does Lady Silverhand like him, haha. I wonder if Kelemvor and Tempus are good buddies?’ he smiles. ‘I loved when Mordrock casted that banishment spell just at the right time. He definitely feels to me like he can stand on his own which is great… I get this odd feeling, Skyreach and Blagothkus is all he knows. The description Blagothkus told us about the human settlement, Ice Reach, didn’t appear to resonate any familiarity with Mordrock.’

Royce’s mind settles on Nong for a moment. ‘Nong is back which is good, but so is his uncomfortable stares and such. Every time I sense something, I turn and there he is, staring at me or sitting right beside me. As if that isn’t enough oddity, now my sword is complaining about being too close to the wand. We have to do something about this soon. That evil artifact has a mind of its own and will not just behave. Tempus what is this trial you have given me?’

Naismith turns over and tries to calm his mind from a day full of adventure. ‘I did not expect such a day. Today put my Skullport shenanigans to shame. Even though we managed to take those humongous things down, our synergy was off; it wasn’t the same without Kendall and Illian. Nong was fearless in battle of course, even more so than before. If there was an ounce of fear in him like I felt, he never showed it. Kendall and Illian would have been proud to be at his side today’.

Naismith thinks for a moment, ‘Unfortunately, we must take the good with the bad in this life. Nong outside of battle is back to his peculiarities again with Royce. I feel we’ve only just begun to tread down this road’.

Mordrock lay on his back staring at the ceiling 100 feet above. He exhales and watches his breadth condense into a misty cloud that slowly dissipates. ‘Skyreach is just as awesome as I remember it, except for the 3 huge burrow holes and dead remorhazes in the courtyard. Blagothkus looks a bit older and a tad less agile, but aren’t we all? His story about freeing his wife’s spirit is bittersweet; may Kelemvor show her the way to eternal rest. One day you free your wife’s spirit, say goodbye and the next day random pegasi show up and never leave your side…pretty awesome’. Mordrock shifts over to his side, before closing his eyes he scans the top of the bed, taking in the guys who call themselves the Drow’s Bane. ‘These three seem cool although I think the cleric and monk are embarrassed to talk to me about their past relationship that might have gone sour. I get it, we have only known each other for 2 days. The way I see the monk stare at the cleric tells me the attraction is not over. The last thing we need on this trip is for romantic drama to get in the way’.

Nong settles into a deep meditative state; he returns his breadth to its familiar steady rhythm of inhales and exhales. He allows his mind to awaken and focus deeply inward. ‘I acknowledge the the feeling of satisfaction for my battle discipline today. I acknowledge a moment of regret that Kendall and Illian were not on the battlefield with us. I allow myself to feel content for the camaraderie with Royce and Naismith again.’ Nong’s breadth pauses as his mind moves deeper into reflection. He allows his mind to uncover something that has returned, something that is open again. Nong’s mind sees an eye staring back at him from the far corner of his mind…somewhere on the distant horizon. He moves toward the eye, reaches out and touches it. The contact generates an emotion – a feeling of being in the heat of battle…adrenaline…strength…control…focus. There is also a subtler feeling underneath that Nong uncovers.

He allows his mind to experience this deeper feeling; it is one of chaos, submission to a greater power and of dominance over all. This feeling is so intense and intoxicating; it seems to nourish itself on the feelings of battle. Nong’s breadth is unsteady now as he moves his mind away from the eye. He tries to regain the steady breathing rhythm but it is difficult. He awakens and his eyes lock on Royce’s; immediately Royce looks away. Nong turns over and begins to calm his mind again; hopefully this time he can just fall asleep.

Journey to Fate’s doorstep: 24th of Marpenoth (month 10), Catchbreeze

With a popping sound, Kendel appears in the center of an elaborate gemstone mosaic full of magic sigils. He is swathed in a number of extra robes, a hooded, fur-lined cape and a scarf the size of a small country. When he turns to move towards Catchbreeze’s central staircase, he looks like a ship under full sail. One of his wraps unfurls as he walks, revealing a large stack of scrolls, documents and parcels that he cradles close to his chest. 

As Kendel ascends to the library, Petha, in her usual livery but with an added shawl, comes through the decorative panel that serves as hidden doorway for serving staff. She carries a small bundle of scrolls and smiles warmly as she sees Kendel approach. “Ser Kendel! A moment of your time, if you please.” He smiles back at the liveried half-elf. “How do you always happen to know precisely when I arrive, Petha?” She lowers her eyes a tad. “We have our ways, ser. Because you are so close to completing the circle, we have set it to activate  a small bell downstairs when it is used.” She waits a moment, then continues. “Could I have your attention for a bit of correspondence, or is this not a good time?” She offers him some scrolls from her stack. Kendel eyes them distractedly. “I should have time to attend to these before supper. Thank you. Could you perhaps ask Tarrus to mull some wine? It does go so well with the weather, this time of year.” Petha nods. “I will also instruct Joscellan to light the fires in your apartment. Will you require his assistance with evening dress as well, ser? We’re not expecting guests tonight.” Kendel looks relieved at this news and shakes his head. “I’ll likely be overdressed as it is.” 

He winks at Petha, then disappears into the library and unceremoniously dumps his armload of goods onto his favorite desk, which already overflows with piles of books and papers. He rummages for a while, then picks up one of the scrolls the majordomo gave him. It is a small scroll, sealed with a familiar crest. Doubtlessly this was his mothers’ monthly missive, informing him of this ball or that fête, and notifying him of the presence of certain ah.. available and suitable young elvish women from good families. He tosses the scroll, unread, into the fire that burns in a hearth a few feet from his workplace. Next, he picks up an even smaller scroll bearing the same crest. Aleda, his younger sister, liked to write to him whenever his mother did, for reasons he could not discern. Her notes, full of small, homely stories and summaries of her recent lessons always cheered him up. The last note had mentioned an infatuation of some sort. She’d asked him for secrecy, implying that the object of her affections was not a maternally pre-approved candidate. He really should remember to invite her to spend a few days here. She would love the library, and would likely spend hours giggling with Yonica, the stable girl, and she could get a break from their mother’s meddling which would undoubtedly do her good. Maybe he could even persuade her to introduce this interest of hers. Get a feeling for whoever it was. Amused by this sudden surge of fraternal protectiveness he puts the small scroll aside. He’d read that one later and compose a reply.

A third scroll carries the official seal of the royal court of Gauntlgrym. He opens it. He frowns at the note. Just to make sure, he makes a few quick gestures over it. The note remains unchanged. No magic. No illusions. Unusual. Why only him? He’d have to take it up with the others. Well, the few who remained, at least. 

The fourth scroll looks even more impressive than the third. This one has two seals: one of Lady Laeral Silverhand, Open Lord of Waterdeep and another, showing it to have been sent via the hand-to-hand rider service organized by the Caravaneersguild. The news was likely urgent then. He scans the contents of the scroll, his frown deepening. He purses his lips in annoyance, makes a decision and snaps his fingers. In response the old brass bell that hangs in the estate’s foyer as a reminder of its past, emits a sound as if it was rung in a belfry. Before the ringing echoes have faded away, Kendel has swung open the tall, carved doors that lead to Catchbreeze’s magnificent dining room. He seats himself at the head of the table.

A multitude of footsteps approach. Naismith enters at a rushed pace, followed on his heels by a pony-sized, eight-legged lizard with luminescent eyes. Kendel twiddles his fingers at the beast, and she gives him an obliging blink. “What news, Kendel. Are we under attack?” The wizard looks at his roguish friend with alarm. “I’d like to think not. Should we be?” Naismith frowns for a split second, but then denies cheerfully. “Then what? News from Ilian? Nong?” Kendel shakes his head. “Nothing quite so… concrete, I am afraid. But let us wait until Royce is also here.” Naismith gives his elvish friend an exasperated look. “He’s at the temple. He wouldn’t hear that.” Kendel looks smug. “Of course he does.” “Oh.” 

The silence at the table is only interrupted by the sandpapery sound of the large lizard stretching herself on the flagstones in front of the impressive fireplace. Hearing her sigh contentedly, Kendel nods at her. “She seems to do well under your keeping.” Understanding the intent behind the compliment Naismith drops the scowl. “Yeah. Petri’s not bad. Jero asked us the other day to help him deal with a nest of dire hares that was too much for Yonica’s little dogs. She had so much fun.”

They chat about matters of the house for a while, until they hear the estate’s large front doors slam open. A commotion enters the house along with an icy eastern wind. Naismith’s daggers flash in his hands, Petri jumps up, her eyes glowing brighter. Kendel makes the first gestures of a spell. Not until they recognize the voices do they begin to breathe again. 

Yonica’s high-pitched voice sounds panicky “Ser, it’s no way to leave the horse like that! It’s soaking wet. It’ll catch a cold!” Nong responds impatiently: “Then you’ll do me the favor of drying him off, girl. Ride him back to Silvanus’ temple here in Waterdeep. That’s where he goes.” Royce interrupts, trying to smooth matters over. “Best leave it for now, Yonica. Can you handle taking the horse to the temple? Otherwise, Sur will be glad to help you, I’m sure.” 

A pair of light footsteps disappears from earshot. Catchbreeze’s heavy front doors fall shut. Royce speaks up again. “Nong! Not that I’m not glad to see you, man, but you left your manners wherever you’ve been hiding. She’s just a child.” Nong growls: “Who has time to be polite when our arcane taskmaster rings a bell in your head. What am I? Some dog? To be called at will?” Royce laughs at this. “Still, it’s good that you’ve come back. All hale and whole, I hope?” A brief silence falls. “Good, good. Then maybe we should go see what our wizard has to say.” 

Docks Ward

Mordrock sits at the bar at Kissfettle’s and stares down at the small scroll that was pressed into his hand by a hurried messenger an eighth bell ago. Why would they summon him? Why now? Did this have something to do with what happened three days ago? How would she have known? He shakes his head. No other way to find out but to obey the summons. Besides, only a fool ignores a request made by Lady Silverhand.

Journey to Fate’s doorstep: 21st of Marpenoth (month 10), Trades Ward

It had been a long day among the graves of the city, and it had been full dark before Mordrock- sore and nigh-frozen – had made his way back to his rooms. Once there, he’d poked the fire and suspended a large copper plate above the flames. After Dewen had brought his supper upstairs, he’d moved the plate to between the blankets and the straw pallet in his sleeping alcove. He decided he was too tired for dinner, choosing to portion out some of the fish to Skeet and go to bed. The other cats would simply have to wait until morning.

He’d dropped his outer clothes where he stood, but kept on shirt and leggings. Even with the bedwarmer it would be a cold night. Frost blooms would creep up his window by midnight, and by morning the water in the ewer would be be covered with ice.

About an hour later, Mordrock tosses and turns in his sleep. He seems to awaken, takes a deep breath and turns onto his side, before he falls back into a slumber. 

A dream gradually takes over his senses and transitions him into a ghastly abyssal scene where he floats over a horrid wasteland. The scent of rot and decay fills his nostrils. Above him, a sickly shade of green illuminates the sky. 

A fierce wind from the South propels Mordrock forward, pushing him at an unbearable pace. He glances South to witness a great host of angels, flying at break-neck speed. They fly past him, sweeping him up as they move northward. Their destination: a castle on the horizon. 

The angels fly over a river red as blood, which leads them to the castle’s doorstep. Mordrock watches as the castle comes into view. It is enormous and appears to be made of bone and sinew. The area surrounding the castle is filled with throngs of undead; loud, ghastly cries rise from their decaying forms as they shamble and stumble in maddened patterns. 

The angels pierce through windows into the castle’s interior carrying Mordrock with them. Crossing the windowed threshold he begins to convulse at first site of the interior walls made of putrid flesh oozing pus and floors of humanoid hair matted with blood, crushed bone and ichor. 

The dream pivots and Mordrock is no longer flying but stands on solid ground. All around him, battle rages. Vast angelic hosts engage hordes of undead demons in a fray that stretches as far as he can see. A squad of angels with golden tridents darts past him, he catches a glimpse of Kelemvor’s symbol tattooed across their backs. 

The angels with golden tridents close in on an undead titan thundering through the battlefield and hastily fell the creature. As it falls, screeching, it reaches out with broken claws and snags several of the angels, pulling them to their doom alongside its dying body. The fighting tangle crashes onto sharp rocks with a horrible, earth-shattering sound. A dozen rivulets of demonic and angelic ichor mingle and run down the rock face.

The dream pivots again. Mordrock is back in the castle, somewhere in the shadows of a huge chamber that smells rancid with undeath. In the center of this chamber sits a large throne made of bone; dark gems outline the arms, back and legs. 

Seven angels fly into the chamber and surround the throne, searching frantically. In seconds, they locate a pulsating gem and force it out of its socket. A black cloud erupts from the empty socket engulfing five of the angels; seconds later, they turn to dust as the gem tumbles toward the floor. 

The sixth angel snatches the gem before it hits the floor; in the angel’s grasp, the gem unleashes a curse that washes over the angel. Gripped by panic, it throws the gem to its last remaining ally before it screams and tears at its skin. From inside the angel’s body a violent figure erupts– an undead balor, roaring in mad rage as it crawls out of the angelic husk and lunges toward the remaining angel. A wave of hopelessness washes over Mordrock as he realizes the angel is no match against the balor. The angel knows it too. Still clutching desperately to the gem it frantically looks around the chamber. When it locks eyes with Mordrock, it sends a jolt of radiant energy down Mordrock’s spine. 

With an inarticulate roar, Mordrock jumps up. Tangled in his sheets and hampered by the low ceiling of his sleeping alcove, he stumbles, half catches himself and smashes into a shelf on the wall. Several glass specimen jars shatter on the floor. He swears, then stands bent over, panting. He’s had nightmares before, but not like this. Nothing remotely like this.

Thunder cracks in the small room and Mordrock flings himself around. A portal opens, obscuring his bed. From inside, a grievously injured angel lunges forward. With a final burst of strength, it fixates on Mordrock. Inside his head, he hears an angelic voice, short and breathy with exhaustion. “Guard this with your life…Until the time is right… To free it…We all…Have sacrificed our lives for this… Keep it safe…Mordrock of Kelemvor.” 

With those words, the gem disappears from the dying angel’s hand.  A weight pulls on Mordrock’s neck as the gem appears there, suspended from a thin chain. Mordrock begins to form a thought, tries to speak. Then, a huge, clawed hand reaches through the portal and crushes the angel’s head. Angelic ichor sprays out from between the monstrous claws across the room as the portal closes. 

Clutching at the gem around his neck, Mordrock stares wild-eyed at the messy pile of blankets where the portal was. Only after several seconds does he blink and realize he’s standing in a puddle of embalming fluid and ichor, surrounded by chunks of flesh, pieces of skin and the well-preserved body of a large, two-headed kitten.

Journey to Fate’s doorstep: 5th of Marpenoth (month 10), Grasperspire

The last leaves still cling to their branches at lower altitudes, but a frigid wind whirls around the peaks of the northern Sword Mountains. On one inhospitable plateau on an eastern flank stands a small lean-to. In front of it, a large area is cleared of snow. In the middle of that clearing, with a single bare foot on the frost-covered granite, stands a half-orc. His stance appears relaxed and effortless. 

On the edge of the clearing, a handful of men and women have gathered. Most of them are human, but two young half-orcs are present as well. Some sit huddled around a tiny, smokeless fire. A few others stand, appearing to imitate the man in the center with limited success. They windmill their arms. They sway sideways. One eventually falls, but gets back up to try again. The man in the middle pays them no mind. They might as well not be there at all. This scene continues without change from morning until well past midday. The students break for a meal and hot tea, but the man in the center continues his meditations, as interminable as the wind.

Just as the students begin preparations to descend from the plateau, the unending rush of wind is interrupted by a sound. All but the monk in the center look around in bewilderment. What causes this eerie noise? Where is it coming from? Why is it getting louder? Just as some are starting to look up, seeking a bird, a wild pig of enormous size comes tearing up the narrow goat path that is the only access to this remote location. In its haste, it bowls over three students, and scatters the rest with a long, ear-splitting squeal. Seemingly ignoring the fleshy obstacles in its way, the pig runs straight for the half-orc, who remains unmoving. 

Just as the pig lowers its head in preparation for a charge, the meditating man responds. With a nigh imperceptible movement, he is suddenly airborne, landing again just behind the pig, still on one leg. The pig attempts to stop and turn but slips on the smooth rock and collides violently with the little lean-to. Its dried-out branches break apart into a cloud of splinters that shower the pig. Once the boar emerges from the wreckage, the monk puts down his other leg, opens his arms and grins widely. The pig trots up to his friend and nuzzles him, then presses close and squeezes its little eyes shut in deep contentment. Nong puts his arms around the pig’s neck and smilingly intones: “As Elder Brother Talik says: ‘An unexpected visit from a friend is a string for any harp’.” Hearing him speak, the students suddenly approached their chosen master. A young human woman speaks up: “Elder Brother Nong, please tell us. What is the lesson of the pig?”

Nong stares at her and scowls for several seconds. She blushes and moves to the back of the little group. From behind them all, a voice says “The lesson of the pig is that a visit from a friend is only unexpected if you don’t tell them where you are.” The students turn en-masse to gawk at the windblown, mousy half-elf who seems to have appeared out of thin air “The lesson of the ranger, if you care to hear it, is that you should go down from the mountain for the day. The wind is picking up and night will fall soon. Shoo! Off you go.” Leaving Nong and Tusker to their re-acquainting, she begins to herd the students down the path.

Some time later, when the students’ puzzled, excited voices have stopped echoing off of the mountainside, Ilian, Nong and Tusker huddle together in the ranger’s small tent. Its sides bend and billow under the freezing mountain gale. 

“A few days to yourself, Nong, of course. No one would begrudge you that. But leaving for weeks? No one has heard from you for months! You could at least have sent word.” It’s rare for Ilian to take such a reproachful tone, but Nong is not impressed. He snorts. “Time is like scales on a snake: many, but slithering by without notice. One day of meditation here outweighs a full month of vapid courtesy and listening to the trite little woes of over-fed lords and satin-wrapped ladies. Besides…” Nong lifts a finger at Ilian and gives her a hard stare “you coming here and lecturing me is rich. You’re the one who left. It’s different for you, even. You don’t have Royce watching your every step, eying you like a dog that might be rabid, jealously guarding your own hard-won treasure from you.” 

Ilian sighs and scratches Tusker behind a plate-sized ear. “I’ve told you as much as I can about why I left. The Emerald Enclave needs my help. I’d invite you along if I could,  but it’s really a one-person job and they’ve asked for me to be discrete. Otherwise, you’re right. I don’t have Royce watching me. I didn’t pick up the Wand of Orcus. You did. And I think half of what you’re feeling now, is the price you pay for it.

Nong glowers. “That’s a cheap bit of spirit-reading you’re trying there. Leave it. I need to make something clear to you. We’re a team, sure. I’d put my life on the line for you. Often have, in fact. But that doesn’t mean I have to like you. Tusker, sure, he’s easy to get along with. I like him well enough. Food is really all he wants. But with you, there’s all these added expectations. Play nice. Say pleasant things. Don’t leave without saying so. Be a team. Same with the others. I thought Royce and I could be friends once. Now, he looks at me like he can’t decide whether I am a dangerous madman or a disobedient pupil. Like his motives are pure, hoarding the Wand the way he has been doing.” The monk snorts in anger.

In the silence after that harsh exchange, Nong busies himself by feeding Tusker some scraps of groundhog stew and crusts of rye bread. Ilian pulls her bow on her lap and starts waxing the string. Eventually, she says: “Don’t mistake concern for condescension, Nong, or worry for pity. Maybe you’re right and Royce has his own battle with the Wand of Orcus. And sure, he’s not the man he once was. His return from death took a toll on him. I think it changed how all of us feel about him. But like you, he’d put his life on the line for yours. Often has, in fact. As would I. Any of us would – I’m sure of it. But you’re making it hard on all of us when you disappear like you did. It’s even worse because I had to go away, and then you were nowhere to be found. Drow’s Bane can’t be effective with two of its members missing. We… I mean. They. They need you to come back.” 

Nong looks at the ranger for a while as she straightens the fletchings on the arrow that killed their dinner. “So you’ve come to fetch me back? Is that why they sent you?”

Ilian shakes her head. “No one’s sent me. I’m on my way already for the work that takes me away from you. And I’m not fetching you. But your absence has all the others worried, and they don’t know what to do. I thought I might take time to find you while I’m on the road. Reason with you. See if I could persuade you to come back. Beg, if I have to. Leave your little flock to their own devices and spend time with those who you don’t need to answer questions for.”

The monk pulls his cloak tighter across his shoulders, and rolls to face the tent wall with a grunt, using Tusker’s meaty shoulder as a pillow. After a minute or two he grumbles: “I’ll sleep on it.” 

The tent gets dark as Ilian blows out their candle. “You do that. I’ll take watch.”

The next morning Nong wakes up in an empty tent. In a single, fluid movement, he rolls out through the tent flap, onto his barren mountain refuge. There, he sees some splintered wood from his lean-to set ablaze . A small metal kettle stands beside it in the hot ashes, steam billowing out of its spout. Next to the fire lies the one unbroken piece of wood that formed the backbone of his lean-to: his magic quarterstaff. 

Ilian soon appears with a cloak pocket bulging with tubers and roots and thin, green stalks. She  carries a few pale eggs in her hands. “I was hoping we could have breakfast before I go.” she says. “And you figured you could use my house to cook it?” Ilian’s shoulders drop a little. “There was no way you could have repaired it after Tusker collided with it. I might as well use it for kindling.” After having set down the eggs, she pulls a small pouch out of yet another cloak pocket and tosses it at Nong. “Make tea, will you? I’ll cook all of this.” 

They eat in a silence that’s almost companionable. “Where’s the pig?” Nong asks, as he mops up some yolk with his finger. “Foraging, I guess.” Before the half-orc has finished his food, however, the pig appears with an excited trot and something dangling from his mouth. Before Nong can even ask, Tusker drops his catch at the monk’s bare feet. The dropped items are wet with drool and have a couple of porcine teethmarks, but are nevertheless recognizable as a very nice pair of very magical boots. Nong stares at the pig in astonishment. “I buried those. Where did you find them?” Ignoring the question, the humongous boar sniffs enquiringly at Nong’s bowl. The monk pushes the remains of his breakfast over to the pig, then uses a corner of his cloak to dry the boots. He stares at them for a long while, face unreadable. Eventually, he puts them on.

Across the fire, the ranger begins to smile. 

Through the steam of her mug of tea she says: “Once you get down to Mountainside, go to the inn of the one-horned ram. The innkeeper knows my name, and she’s got a lovely sorrel gelding in her stables. His name is Acorn. Do me a favor and ride him to Silvanus’s Shrine in Waterdeep for me. I can’t take him any further, and you might as well make good time on your way home.”